We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for the sake of auld lang syne…
The last time I crossed over the border from England to Scotland, I was ten years old and driving for a day and a night in cross-legged comfort from the front seat of my dad’s car, where I voraciously read a ton of Goosebumps novels and a couple of Jacqueline Wilsons. Our destination was Perth, where my mum was performing in a play at the local theatre.
My memories from that time are blurred and faded. I remember rain, and cobbles, and a slight haze of mist that fogged over the tops of buildings. I have vivid recollections of watching Jurassic Park 2’s waterfall scene through tightly clenched fingers at the back of a half empty cinema.
Such is the mind of a ten year old.
Regardless of that week in the Scottish north, I’ve never really felt like I’ve actually been to Scotland. So when I was invited to Edinburgh, along with a group of twenty other bloggers, for one of the biggest New Year celebrations in the world, I couldn’t exactly say no.
Like a number of people around the world, New Year has often held something of a stigma for me. Each year, December 31st is given such importance that you feel guilty or embarrassed if you aren’t heading to an incredible party or an amazing event – and yet the years I’ve spent choked between damp bodies on the South Bank or spending three hours walking home through London’s cavorting streets are not the happiest of occasions!
In fact, some of my best New Year’s Eves have been spent inside, with friends or family, far from the chaos of the outside world. And I’ve been pretty smug about avoiding the craziness of a normal New Year’s Eve.
But then, Hogmanay in Scotland is not your typical New Year’s Eve knees up. Sure, there are fireworks, street parties, general jubilation and a heck of a lot of alcohol, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Something that I didn’t really understand until I became a part of it.
At Hogmanay, it’s the old versus the new. It’s Scottish tradition combining with global modernity. The ancient grandeur of Edinburgh’s famous skyline peppered with ferris wheels and fairground rides, industrial speakers and strings of fairy lights.
And it’s about looking back to ‘auld lang syne’ – which literally means ‘times long past’ – and relishing the chance to step into the past. Starting with an evening of brandishing giant flaming candles while being led by a horde of roaring vikings, and ending with state-of-the-art fireworks exploding above a 12th century castle perched upon a dormant volcano.
Talk about your history.
Setting the streets alight
The torchlight procession, which officially opens Hogmanay on December 30th, was what first alerted me to the wonderfully weird clash between the past and the present. Clutching at our huge tapered candles, I listened to overly concerned tourists fret about the expensive jackets purchased specifically for the depths of Scottish winter.
“Does wax stain if it drips onto polyester?”
“What if the sparks go into my hair and I catch on fire?”
And I heard more than one American voice pipe up with, “Isn’t this a health and safety risk?” But luckily Edinburgh doesn’t concern itself with such trivialities. Hogmanay is bigger than that. And it was a talking point in days to come when you knew a torch bearer at the bus stop by the wax splatters on their sleeves.
My favourite part though (as someone who labours under the delusion of “if I don’t have a photo of it then it didn’t really happen”) was the complete inability to take part in the procession, observe it and record it at the same time. It was hilarious watching my fellow bloggers try and fail to take shots with their iPhones of gloved hands holding flaming torches, while simultaneously avoiding dripping wax, sparks, and the ever present danger of burning someone else.
Needless to say, it was a little tricky.
Ultimately, we were all forced to pocket our electronics and simply enjoy the moment, walking through the streets with thousands of other people in the continuation of a centuries-old tradition.
“It’s like someone vomited tartan all over us!”
While not the most pleasant of sentences uttered by one of our blogger contingent, I absolutely adored being dressed head to toe in Scotland’s traditional pattern. Not least because the layers of thick wool sweater and tartan cape were enough to dispense with my rather unflattering Michelin-man-style puffer coat.
And despite the sidelong looks from the actual Scots as we wandered through the streets, it really got me in the mood for Hogmanay that night. Not to mention it was the perfect outfit to join in with dancing a few rounds at the Keilidh on Princes Street, leaving me breathless and red cheeked with tartan appendages flying.
I am not a great dancer by any stretch of the imagination, but I like to think my kilt helped me out a bit.
Fancy a New Year’s swim?
The aptly named Loony Dook has been officially running for twenty five years, and allows various crazy people to run, screaming, into the freezing cold water of the Firth river in outrageous costumes, on January 1st.
Yet again, it’s a tradition the Scots have embraced with open arms and chattering teeth, and was an absolute joy to watch – particularly for its location in Queensferry, set under the beautifully imposing behemoth that is the Forth Bridge.
Proud to be Scottish
Which brings me to my favourite discovery about being part of such a momentous Scottish celebration. The patriotism I felt by Scots for their country was incredible, and something I honestly had never thought about properly.
It’s something I feel sad that many English people, including myself, seem to be missing – but maybe it’s because I haven’t seen England through the eyes of a visitor as yet.
Celebrating Hogmanay made me feel very small, but not in a negative sense. Instead of being insignificant in amongst the magnitude of crowds that thronged the Royal Mile and Princes Street, I felt like one tiny component of one huge event; something that absolutely needed all our tiny selves as contribution, in order to come together properly.
So that’s my new year’s resolution, made while people from all around the world held my hands in the darkness, on the slope of a Scottish hill, and throatily chanted words in a language they didn’t quite understand.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
It’s about people. Hogmanay is a chance to remember the people who matter to you in life, and to promise not to forget them. To not forget the past, either, and its importance in shaping our futures; whether for New Years Day, for the year ahead, or for life in general. Balancing tradition and the modern day. Tartan and iPhones. Candlelight and fireworks.
This campaign (the wonderfully named Blogmanay) is brought to you by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and is supported by VisitScotland, ETAG, Edinburgh Festivals, Haggis Adventures and Skyscanner. The campaign bloggers were sourced and managed by iambassador.
However, all opinions, musings, and general attempts at humour are entirely my own.